Friday, March 26, 2010

Rising suicide toll kept under wraps>

Rising suicide toll kept under wraps
March 27, 2010

REVISED suicide figures suggest at least 180 more people took their lives in 2007 than previously acknowledged, sources in the mental health sector say.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has kept the official numbers under wraps since it backed out of a plan to release them last Wednesday, citing ''a technical issue which may impact on the quality of some estimates''.

But health advocates close to the process said they understood the revision - undertaken to update the figures with the results of coronial inquiries that had not been concluded when the statistics were collected - had alarmed health bureaucrats who feared it reflected badly on the government's mental health and suicide prevention policies.

If confirmed, the figures would show an increase of about 10 per cent on the 1881 deaths formally documented by the bureau as suicide, and fuel growing controversy over the integrity of the suicide count, which had appeared to decline in recent years.

About a third of deaths investigated by the coroner were unfinalised when the bureau compiled the initial version of its annual Causes of Death report, rendering the suicide statistics a probable underestimate.

It is the first time the bureau has reopened a previous year's death statistics. It has committed to repeating the practice for three years.

Ian Hickie, executive director of the brain and mind institute at the University of Sydney, said the bureau should be required to release the data immediately. The bureau's statement was ''a completely non-transparent response … There's been no explanation and no time frame for when they will actually release it.

''It's a serious policy and public health question. Are we in the middle of a serious increase in suicide, as some have suggested, or not?''

Professor Hickie said suicide rates had risen, especially among the young in countries affected by the economic crisis.

At the least the bureau should tell doctors of the magnitude of any rise and whether particular demographics were more affected, so prevention strategies could be tailored.

The bureau acknowledges suicide figures are likely to be incomplete.

For help or information visit, call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251, or Lifeline on 131 114

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